Q&A Andrew Shantos – Dead Star Island
Which book has most influenced your writing and why?
If I had to pick just one it has to be the Cyberpunk classic, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. One reviewer on Goodreads calls it “War and Peace for nerds”. It made me realise what is possible in a book: it’s brimming with ideas, both playful and deep; its real life characters get treated with affectionate irreverence; it’s sad and funny and clever. I’ve tried to do the same in Dead Star Island, though the nerdy aspect is more of the musical variety.
How long did it take you to find a publisher? What advice have you got for other debut novelists looking to get published?
It took about a year to find a publisher, after much trying (which I describe on another leg of my blog tour). There is much in the world of publishing that is beyond an author’s influence (particularly a debut author). But you can control the most important things: writing the best novel you possibly can; and giving absolutely everything you have. If you achieve those things, you learn to enjoy above all the process of writing, which is a deeper, more abiding love, rather than the short term lust you get from any kind of public “success”.
That said, most writers do want other people to read their musings on life, and it is lovely when someone says something nice about your book. So you have to keep trying, believe in yourself, and seek to become better at what you do.
Your central character is an alcoholic and there is certainly a good deal of substance abuse by the islanders too. How difficult or easy was it to write about?
I adored it! I always got a little excited when I knew one of these scenes was coming up, and I found them the easiest to write. They do say write what you know… Finally I found a constructive use for those wasted college years. There were a few substances missing from my collection though, so I took various mates out for a drink and got them to tell me stories from their bad old days.
I felt it was important to include these kind of experiences in the novel, because many of the real life characters who appear (Jim, Jimi, Joni etc) are defined as much by their hedonistic lifestyles as by their extraordinary musical talent. So Gunzabo (my detective, who simply cannot say no) ends up joining in (quite a lot). He has fun at first, but gets pretty messed up, which for me sums up why many people get into drug abuse, and why they stay into drug abuse.
Dead Star Island took three years, from writing the first word to clicking Send on the final draft. I kept trying to set goals, but this never seemed to work: I found myself failing to reach them and doing even less as a result. What worked really well was keeping a record every time I finished a writing session. I noted the number of hours I spent and what I’d been working on (resulting in some nice stats for the nerds out there). This allowed me to give myself a pat on the back when I looked back and saw I’d done forty hours the previous month. Also I found myself competing with the me from a month ago to try to beat it.
Are there other genres you’d now like to explore?
As a reader I’ve never been one to stick to a particular genre. I’ll read anything, from thrillers to sci-fi to romance, so long as it’s full of ideas and it makes me feel part of someone else’s world. So I don’t know. Maybe a romantic sci-fi thriller?
For now though, I’m focussing on shorter fiction. I’ve got plenty of ideas and I want to turn some of them into short stories before committing to a few more years at the next full length novel.
You are a musician yourself. How did this influence your choice of subject/writing?
Music was the biggest influence of all on Dead Star Island. It helped me choose my characters, write many of the scenes (for example, the talent show where Jimi forms a super-group with some of the other residents and performs a cover of The Final Countdown). Music gave me the idea for the novel in the first place: all my favourite musicians, living in secrecy on an island together. It’s my ultimate fantasy. Of those I’m willing to share with the world, anyhow.